A Brief Additional Note on Immunity and Antibodies

By April 13, 2020 Commentary

For obvious reasons, people are focused on whether people who have been infected by coronavirus develop antibodies and become immune; and to what extent that may already be happening in the population.  The New York Times gives a good summary of the issues.   (NY Times Story)  If a large number of people have antibodies, transmission will slow and those people have the comfort of being able to resume normal activities.  But, as the article summarizes, and I written in other posts, there are questions about whether coronaviruses in general or this one in particular generate durable antibody responses.  Seasonal coronaviruses don’t appear to generate particularly long-lasting antibodies, but the more severe SARS and MERS variants did.  Individuals may vary in their antibody generation as well, depending on how severe their own infection and disease was.  The article notes one study of antibodies in 175 recovered Chinese patients who had mild disease.  Only about 70% had strong antibodies.

The best guess is that the new variant may provoke antibody creation that lasts for a couple of years.  I wonder about that.  Based on the widespread nature of the virus and its ability to create serious disease in at least some people, I suspect the antibodies will be fairly robust.  And since the virus is likely to be hanging around, I would think the average person will periodically encounter it, repriming the immune system.

There may also be questions about our ability to effectively detect antibodies.  The Colorado town that was going to make antibody testing available to everyone has had to suspend the plan due to slowness of results and questions about the accuracy of the test.  Antibody testing is critical, but not worth much if the tests can’t be done quickly and accurately.

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